Thursday, June 14, 2012

Is banning an admission that the voting algorithm is broken?

Reddit banned linking to The Atlantic and Physorg, among others, in an effort to fight spam. (You can read more about the specifics here.)

Is banning an admission that the voting algorithm is broken?

This is a huge issue in social right now. Let me explain:

If you're a publisher of niche content, in particular, content that appeals to males 18-34, you can ill afford to ignore Reddit. Reddit directs a lot of traffic to other websites.

There's a monetary incentive to rig the system.

Everybody gets an equal vote on Reddit. It's a very democratic voting system.

Democracies spawn interest groups.

On Reddit, groups of people can form voting rings. If you want to get your link to the top of a major subreddit, you boost your chances by downvoting all the other links. It doesn't matter if the content may be good and it doesn't matter about the harm you might be doing to the subreddit community in general. Ten upvotes for a given link and ten downvotes for the competing links dramatically augments the chances that the chosen link is seen, picked up, and upvoted. Get enough accounts to coordinate, and you can kill competing links, or, the editorialized/sensational headline that's associated with it.

Interest groups most certainly exist on Reddit.

What makes the problem that much more difficult to mechanically detect is unintentionally coordinated voting behavior, such as when one subreddit cross-posts to another causing a flood of fresh traffic and big swings in upvote/downvote ratios.

Bringing out the banhammer on entire domains is quite a move. Is it an admission of failure within the current algorithm? After all, didn't we have the whole "wisdom of crowds" talking point for the past ten years? Did we really expect people not to form interest groups and start to act self-interested to the detriment of all? 

This is a wicked problem in social. It's an ugly reckoning.

Granted, it's happening in a comparatively small part of the Internet comparatively (Quantcast US rank of Reddit is 59, Youtube is 2, Facebook is 3,Twitter is 4, Wikipedia is 8, Blogger is 17, LinkedIn is 21, Pinterest is 26), but, it's the largest of all the third-generation link sites.

The roots of the fourth generation will grow from this case study.

***

I'm Christopher Berry.
I tweet about analytics @cjpberry
I write at christopherberry.ca

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